Texana Thursday: 3 Things You Might Not Know about San Antonio’s Menger Hotel

William Menger was a San Antonio brewer and hotelier (San Antonio Conservation Society Foundation photo)

The Menger Hotel is across the street from the Alamo in downtown San Antonio, but it’s known for more than its proximity to a famous historical site.

The hotel itself has been a been a backdrop in the lives of many, whether they be famous, obscure, or, in some cases, not with us anymore.

Some things you might not know about the hotel include:

1. A German immigrant to Texas started the hotel.

William Menger (1827-1871) grew up near Frankfurt, Germany. Around 1850, Menger immigrated to Texas and settled in San Antonio. In 1855, he began a brewery on or very near the Alamo battleground.

He and his family saw the need for a hotel, so they built and opened it in 1859.

When Menger died in 1871, his wife and son ran the hotel for a few years before selling it. The hotel has had various owners over the years, and in 1975 received recognition in the National Register of Historic Places.

2. The hotel has ties to U.S. presidents.

The Menger Hotel has hosted many U.S. presidents over its 158 years, the most recent of which were Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. But the most famous episode involving the Menger and a president happened near the turn of the 20th century.

In 1898, the United States went to Spain following the explosion of the battleship USS Maine in Havana Harbor. The assistant secretary of the Navy urged combat, and now with the war on, he felt obligated to serve in combat himself.

Theodore Roosevelt resigned his post, received a commission in the Army, and was authorized to create a regiment that would go and fight with him. He set up his headquarters in the Menger Hotel bar and began looking for volunteers.

The brigade became known as the Rough Riders. Roosevelt’s leadership and actions in Cuba would make him a national hero and set him on the path to becoming president in 1901.

Posthumously, Roosevelt received the Medal of Honor for his actions in the Battle of San Juan Hill.

3. The hotel is also known for its ghosts.

In 2000, Docia Schultz Williams wrote The History and Mystery of the Menger Hotel, in which she shares stories of ghosts seen at the hotel.

Perhaps the most famous story Williams shares is of Sallie White, a chambermaid who was on the hotel staff in 1876. She was killed by her husband in March of that year. Yet she apparently was well-liked and respected by guests and colleagues, which perhaps explains why people claimed to see her ghost at the hotel.

Whether one believes in ghosts, it makes for one of a number of interesting stories Williams relates in her book.